Yao Chengguang performs zhan zhaung
Even an exercise as simple as zhan zhuang has its subtle points, the ignorance of which may hinder your progress in wushu. Wang Xiangzhai, the founder of Yiquan and a master of zhanzhuang, said:
We must, first and foremost, avoid the use of clumsy force, in body and in mind. Using this force makes the qi stagnant. When the qi is stagnant, than the yi stops; when the yi stops, than the spirit is broken.
To be sure, this is good advice, but even the greenest student is familiar with this principle of no-force. So, instead of dwelling on that, I would like to examine a more specific problem.
Zhan zhuang practice typically begins with wuji zhuang, a balanced posture with arms down at the sides of the body. A transition into cheng bao zhuang (‘Embracing the Ball’ Stance) consists of raising the arms up and forward. This action shifts your center of gravity forwards, and unless you compensate for this shift with another part of your body, you will immediately topple over.
The easiest way to compensate for this forward shift is to move another part of your body backwards: butt, back, or head. This type of adjustment may seem correct, because you can thereby maintain your balance without much effort. But it is wrong; it defies the basic requirement of a straight back and impairs circulation. Moreover, these adjustments make it difficult to receive and issue force.
(‘Taming the Tiger’ Stance)
Instead, accept that when you adopt different postures with the arms, you must engage different muscles in the legs and back to remain upright. At first, this will feel uncomfortable, as it increases the load on your entire body; nevertheless, it is correct. This discomfort does not necessarily mean you have violated the principle of no-force; rather, it simply shows that your body is not yet strong enough.
One of the signature benefits of zhan zhuang practice is development of hunyuan li, or unified martial force. To gain this benefit to the fullest degree, be sure to practice with your whole body.